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Air Pollution Comes to Southen Utah
As a general operating principle, visible air is not our best friend. Thus the old rule: “If you can see it, don’t breathe it.” But strict adherence to the rule would have meant not breathing at all on far too many days this winter along Utah’s Wasatch Front. Residents found themselves trapped again and again in ugly, polluted muck.
Long assumed to be strictly a peril of crowded urban living, the problem is moving to southern Utah. The Uintah Basin is known for Dinosaur National Monument and splendid wild country along the White River. Now, it includes ozone and particulate pollution, too. The levels approach Clean Air Act standards—and even exceed them in some cases. The culprit most likely is oil-and-gas-related development. Zion and Canyonlands National Parks have also experienced ground-level ozone pollution at or above Clean Air Act standards
Ground-level ozone pollution is caused primarily by a mixture of various pollutants and sunlight. It can cause respiratory problems in humans and damage plants. Particulate matter pollution consists of small particles that can lodge in human lungs and create respiratory problems and heart problems for certain at- risk populations. Particulate matter is a major cause of haze that mars scenic vistas.
Unfortunately, if predictably, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has not made air quality protection a priority. The agency has frequently approved oil and gas projects that it knows will lead to significant deterioration of air quality or has remained willfully ignorant of such impacts by relying on only cursory air quality analyses.
SUWA has begun to raise air quality issues with the BLM. The agency is obligated to ensure that the projects it approves will not violate federal air quality standards. Our early efforts have shown some success: already two courts have agreed with at least some of our air quality-related arguments.
We will continue to raise those arguments. As the American Lung Association famously reminded us, “It’s a matter of life and breath.”